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Respect your elders and give them a job

By Jane Caro

I am 61 years old. That probably means that I am more or less unemployable in terms of a traditional full-time job. Should my (so far very profitable) sole trader business fail and I put feelers out for employment, I doubt I’d get a nibble.

There’s no real logic behind this fact because I am at the absolute top of my game and I am not finished yet. I have the time, the experience and the maturity to really add value but, in a way, I suspect that is part of the problem. It would take a very confident manager to hire a person like me to work for them.



Like many skilled and experienced older workers, I am too easily perceived as a threat. There can still be a real awkwardness experienced by a younger manager about dealing with an older subordinate, almost as if it goes against nature.
It can work the other way too. Older workers, who have been there and done that, can be impatient with what younger colleagues see as a brilliant new idea but that they have seen done before, maybe many times before. I doubt there are any really new ideas, just new thinkers.



For older workers who are not seeking management or senior positions, the outlook is just as bleak. The average age of ‘retirement’ for older women is 52 and 58 for men, yet the pension won’t kick in for people who are that age today until they are 67.

Given that the average woman retires with half the super of men (and most male super is also not enough to see them through old age) and a third retire with none at all, what on earth are they living on?

That is one reason I put ‘retirement’ in inverted commas. I suspect most of the people who leave the paid workforce forever in their 50s are not retiring to a life of luxury, cruising the world’s oceans, exotic cocktail in hand. I suspect they are being forced out of their jobs and are taking early ‘retirement’ reluctantly. No wonder the fastest growing group among the homeless are women over 55.

Some older workers are taking their redundancy payments and – if they have it – cash in lieu of long service leave and buying themselves a business. The number of older people I see running small franchises like lawn mowing companies, domestic cleaning services, ironing services and courier companies is revealing.

While many may enjoy their time in small business, I doubt it was their lifelong dream to do such work. For older workers who were employed in jobs that are demanding physically – plumbers, brickies, nurses, even childcare workers – their ageing bodies may simply not allow them to stay in their chosen profession.



Yet surely this is easily fixed? We have an ageing population – so we need to keep as many people in the workforce as we possibly can – and it doesn’t take much adjustment to do just that.

Hint 1: stop making older employees the first on the chopping block every time there’s a round of redundancies.

Hint 2: take the best qualified person for the job, even (maybe especially) if they are older.

We have young parents – both male and female – desperate to work less hours, and experienced, older workers often desperate to work more. How hard can it be to put those two together?



Yes, managers must become more confident about hiring people with skills and experience that may exceed their own – but surely that is what defines the best managers? That they have the ability and confidence to hire great people and then get out of their way and let them do what they do best. And, yes, we might have to give physical workers occupations that are more sedentary.

But most of all we need to get over our prejudices about ageing and that older people are somehow lesser people – not as smart, agile or able to master new skills the way they once could. There is simply no actual evidence for that.

Business is very outspoken about diversity these days, particularly when it comes to making sure they have teams that include women, people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds or with different sexual orientation and gender identity, but the one group we still mostly shy away from are those who are older.

And, if you think about it, while all discrimination against a group of human beings is stupid, discrimination against someone simply because they have lived a little longer than you have is the dumbest form there is. After all, if you discriminate against older people, one day you may find you have been discriminating against your future self.

Jane Caro runs her own communications consultancy. She worked in the advertising industry for 30 years and is now an author, journalist, lecturer and media commentator.

This article appeared in December 2018’s Leadership Matters. Exclusive to IML ANZ Members, Leadership Matters is the region’s only specialist management and leadership magazine.

Each edition includes sharp commentary, insightful features and best-practice resources – inspiring readers to become better managers and leaders.

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